Hellings features Brett Hellings on lead vocals, Tommy Henriksen (Alice Cooper, Hollywood Vampires, Warlock, Lady Gaga, Meat Loaf) on guitars and backing vocals; Richard Fortus (Guns N’ Roses) on lead guitar; Buck Johnson (Aerosmith, Hollywood Vampires) on keyboards, organ and backing vocals; Billy Sheehan (David Lee Roth, Mr. Big, Steve Vai) on bass and backing vocals; and Kenny Aronoff (John Mellencamp, John Fogerty, Smashing Pumpkins) on drums and percussion.
It was just a 45 second mention on a syndicated radio show, but for veteran indie rocker Brett Hellings, who has toughed it out over the years and made his mark in NYC, L.A., Nashville and Philly, it felt like a life-changing anointing from a revered rock god. The endorsement ultimately led the well-traveled singer-songwriter to record with a powerhouse ensemble of the industry’s top session and touring musicians, culminating the group’s debut single, the classic styled power ballad “Kill Me to Keep Loving You.”
In 2020, on the Deja New segment of the globally popular radio show, “Nights with Alice Cooper,” the iconic shock rocker introduced Hellings’ party anthem “Here To Have a Good Time” (from his band’s 2019 album Ride) by saying, insightfully: “We’ve been getting a lot of original bands more original than the likes of Greta Van Fleet. Tonight’s entry is a band called Hellings…he and his brother (Christian) moved to L.A. like countless other bands, but for them it worked. The band kickstarted a career that’s growing quickly…here’s one of Hellings’ bluesy rocking tunes…”
Most singer/songwriters, thrilled with and buoyed by the plug, would have gone back to recording and performing business as usual, continuing the never-ending quest to create an impact. But bigger things were afoot for Hellings. These were the early days of the pandemic, when legendary rock sidemen, among millions of other musicians, were sidelined and itchy to find something creatively meaningful to fill the void. David Davidian, tour manager for Cooper and The Hollywood Vampires, heard the show, and loved the music so much that he passed it on to some of his musician friends. Free from other commitments due to the pandemic, the new band members embraced the opportunity to work with a dynamic, still emerging frontman.
Those loaded words brought the group together to El Paso’s famed Sonic Ranch studio featuring a fantasy lineup of some of the most iconic (and usually extraordinarily busy) road warriors in the business, recording with Hellings. Free from other commitments, the new band members embraced the opportunity to work with a dynamic, still emerging frontman with loads of potential. The tracks from their sessions were mixed by Tim Palmer, who has worked his sonic magic for Pearl Jam, U2, Robert Plant and David Bowie, among others; and mastered by Grammy award winning Howie Weinberg (Nirvana, Prince, Jeff Buckley, Muse).
Though Hellings is a prolific songwriter who has been recording his own material since his debut solo 2005 album, Restless, he was happy to make an exception when he heard the original demo for “Kill Me To Keep Loving You” – a tune written by Buck Johnson and Erik Halbig in Nashville as a potential cut for Steven Tyler’s 2016 country-flavored solo debut, We’re All Somebody From Somewhere. “Buck had given me several songs he’d written in the past, and during pre-production, he gave me the song in its raw form,” says Hellings. “The demo was intended to have a very poppy-country vibe, but I could hear its potential as a rock ballad.”
He continues, “I was just getting out of a long, toxic relationship, so the lyrics of the song about someone you love being the worst thing for you hit me hard. It’s got a bigness and is very relatable, whether it connects to a personal experience like I had or anything else in your life that’s killing you -- to keep loving it. I immediately thought I could put my own twist on it, and once I heard that Steven Tyler didn’t want to do it, I definitely had to sing it! I think the song has something special about it, and I was up to the challenge of making someone else’s song my own. The way Tommy and Buck produced it, with Richard Fortus’ huge lead guitar solo, made me realize that these kinds of bold power ballads are really missing from the contemporary rock coming out these days.”
The provocative video for “Kill Me to Keep Loving You” is directed by Shane Drake, whose credits include clips for Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood, Avril Lavigne, Fall Out Boy and Panic at the Disco! Brett is featured singing, playing the piano and walking through the historic Pontchartrain Hotel, considered one of New Orleans’ Top 5 Haunted Hotels. He is also seen walking the streets of NOLA and outside the gates of the Lafayette Cemetery. Fortus’ solo was shot at Hollywood Forever Cemetery.
Other songs that Hellings and the band will release in the future – including singles and a potential full album down the road – were written by Hellings, Johnson, Hendriksen, and Fortus.
One might say God has a sense of humor when it comes to Hellings’ personal and musical background, having a surname like that while growing up in a religious home in various towns in and around Chester County, Pennsylvania. Starting to play guitar around 14 after his brother Christian took him to see a mind-blowing Stone Temple Pilots concert, he led a fascinating double life throughout his teen years, playing in the band at Calvary Fellowship Church and then leading worship while rocking out at home to Nirvana, STP, Oasis and other rock greats of the era. Hellings credits that concert as the catalyst to his entire career as a rocker and says that Christian – later a part of the band Hellings - was also an essential part of who he became as a musician and artist.
After participating with several bands in musical competitions in high school, Hellings attended a summer performance program at Berklee College of Music in Boston, sticking around for one semester as a vocal performance major before realizing in a songwriting class that the “best way to learn how to write was to just go out and live life.” That’s a bit of an understatement when it comes to following the colorful geography as he pursued his rock and roll dreams. First, he moved to Nashville, where he achieved some local success with Lover’s Red, the Southern Rock band he formed. During this time, he recorded his solo debut Restless (under his full name) in Florida with engineer Joe Smith (NSYNC, Backstreet Boys).
Hellings and Christian then hightailed it to NYC, living in a closet sized apartment on the Lower East Side for a year before the siblings chased their passions out West, settling in Los Angeles, where they formed Hellings, recorded their debut album Electric Drag (2007), and held court for two years playing at iconic Sunset Strip clubs like The Whisky, Key Club, Roxy and The Viper Room. Their manager booked opening slots for Steel Panther and Buckcherry, among other bands, and Hellings was offered several major label recording deals – which they ultimately turned down due to creative differences. He wanted to stay organic and sing a certain way the suits didn’t vibe with. Hellings later served as lead singer for several L.A. based bands, including The Nasty Souls. Leading up to and beyond the release of Ride, the band Hellings has been a rotating collective of players – and the singer has put together a new lineup for upcoming shows. He is currently bi-coastal.
“The coolest thing about working on the Hellings project with these consummate musicians was realizing just how easy and comfortable it can be, and how much I could learn, working in the studio with truly creative people who pour everything they’ve got into making a song perfect,” says Hellings. “Everyone was all about getting the best of what we could bring to the art form. So many of my previous band experiences were full of drama and obstacles, but this was all about the music and camaraderie. Even though I am not even close to their level of musicianship and performance skills, I realized that I’m a lot like them. Likewise, they appreciated the opportunity to work with me, fulfilling every vision I had for what the sessions could be. A lot of great friendships and relationships were forged during that week at Sonic Ranch, and I’m excited to see where the journey takes us from here.”